Are you a "big picture" person or a more "detail-oriented" one? Knowing the answer can help you save more. In a study done at the University of Rochester, participants were grouped into big-picture or detail-oriented thinkers, then tried to follow a savings goal — either big and abstract ("save as much as you can") or concrete (save $150 per paycheck).
Surprisingly, the most successful savers were the ones who followed the savings strategy opposite to their normal way of thinking. So, big-picture thinkers following specific savings goals and detail-oriented thinkers following big-picture savings goals were the most prosperous. "What I think it really comes down to is challenging ourselves outside our normal mental rut," said Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist at Morningstar.
Test the theory on yourself — if you're more big-picture, aim for a specific dollar amount per week, and if you're detail-oriented, try a broader goal, like saving "as much as you can." Keep an eye on your progress — and how you're feeling — to see if you need to switch things up or try a different strategy.
Figure out what gets you motivated
If you don't feel a little excited to put money away, it's because you haven't found your motivation yet, or as Newcomb aptly puts it, "it's probably because you don't want to do it." She said social psychologists theorize there are two types of human motivation — the first "avoids" something negative, the second "approaches" or goes after something positive.
To figure out which you are, ask yourself: Do I try to hold on to what I have (avoid) or go after new things (approach)?
"Once you have a clue, then you want to set your goals up to match with the way you're naturally motivated," says Newcomb. If you're an avoid person, it's better to think of this savings account as an emergency fund to avoid negative things that could happen. (If you're still not motivated, take some time to think about what it would be like if you ran out of money but your car broke down or you had a large medical expense. It'll get you there.)
If you're an approach person, reframe the goal as a freedom fund, which gives you the ability to say, "I'm sick of this job," "I'm sick of this relationship," "I'm going to China for six months," or "I'm doing what I need to do to be in control of my life,"" said Newcomb. "You're "approaching" feeling powerful and in control of your life — think, "I'm putting power in the bank.""